Sometimes the trajectory of life directs you to the work you were meant to do along with the best of companions.
Because of a traffic accident in 1999, Monica Johnson has been in a wheelchair ever since. Avalon, her service dog from Service Dogs Inc. in Dripping Springs, has been with her since 2016. Together, they have worked in the Social Work Department at Driscoll Children’s Hospital since 2019.
What made you want to be a Social Worker? Did becoming a paraplegic affect your decision?
Johnson: I feel like becoming a paraplegic definitely directed my path into the social work field. I met many people who helped me along the way that I admired. I had great mentors throughout my journey. I decided to be a social worker to give back what had been given to me and to help others through struggles I had experienced.
As a paraplegic, do you feel it affects your interactions with patients and families? How so?
Johnson: I feel that being a paraplegic makes me shorter and on the same eye level of kids, which I think they appreciate. I also think kids like wheelchairs. They want to play with them; therefore, I look like a big toy to some children. I sometimes think that patients and families know at some point I was probably a patient and that may have more impact than anything. People tend to be nice to people in wheelchairs, so I have an advantage there.
Do you feel having Avalon when meeting with patients and families puts them at ease? How do kids react when they see Avalon? How can Avalon be a learning tool for kids with disabilities?
Johnson: Avalon is a better social worker than I will ever be. Avalon calms people down and puts traumatized children at ease. Avalon helps the children talk openly and helps build rapport and trust. Avalon makes so many children and staff members happy. She is an angel! I show children with disabilities how Avalon helps me. Service dogs build confidence and give shy children ways to interact with their peers.
What does Avalon think of Driscoll?
Johnson: Avalon loves coming to work. She is always happy and loves to be petted. Avalon is very social and loves people.
Why are you proud to be a part of the Driscoll Children’s Hospital Social Work Department?
Johnson: I am proud to be part of the Social Work Department because of the ladies I work with and my director, Robin Smith, supports us (Avalon, myself). We have a phenomenal team who work together. We support one another and all want the same thing – which is to help children and families in need. I am able, at any time, to bounce ideas off of my co-workers and will always get fantastic feedback on how to help a patient and their family.
It is important for children to have role models. What kind of role models do you think children need? Do you see yourself as a role model?
Johnson: I am just as much a role model as everyone else at Driscoll. We all have roles to play and we are one and the same. We are here for the kids and that is what is so beautiful about Driscoll. The patients are my role models as well. My biggest role model is Avalon. If I could be more like her every day the world would be a better place.